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An acrostic (from the late Greek akróstichis, from ákros, "top", and stíchos, "verse") is a poem or other form of writing in an alphabetic script, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. As a form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aid memory retrieval. A famous acrostic was made in Greek for the acclamation JESUS CHRIST, GOD'S SON, SAVIOUR which in Greek is: Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soter (Ιησούς Χριστός, Θεού Υιός, Σωτήρ), ch and th being each one letter in Greek. The initials spell ICHTHYS (ΙΧΘΥΣ), Greek for fish – hence the frequent use of the fish as a symbol for Jesus Christ from the early days of Christianity to the present time.

Overview

Acrostics may simply spell out the letters of the alphabet in order. These acrostics occur in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Proverbs 31, 10-31, and in Psalms 9,10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145 of the Hebrew Bible.Notable among the acrostic Psalms are the long Psalm 119, which typically is printed in subsections named after the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which is featured in that section; and Psalm 145, which is recited three times a day in the Jewish services.

The ease of detectability of an acrostic can depend on the intention of its creator. In some cases an author may desire an acrostic to have a better chance of being perceived by an observant reader, such as the acrostic contained in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (where the key capital letters are decorated with ornate embellishments), or as in the poem To Doctor Empiric (by Ben Jonson) which is a verse outlined after the word W-O-L-Fgiving emphasis to, and capitalizing the key letters so such acrostic is relatively easier to discern. However, acrostics may also be used as a form of steganography, where the author seeks to conceal the message rather than proclaim it. This might be achieved by making the key letters uniform in appearance with the surrounding text, or by aligning the words in such a way that the relationship between the key letters is less obvious. This is referred to as null ciphers in steganography, using the first letter of each word to form a hidden message in an otherwise innocuous text. Using letters to hide a message, as in acrostic ciphers, was popular during the Renaissance, and could employ various different methods of enciphering, such as selecting other letters than initials based on a repeating pattern (equidistant letter sequences), or even concealing the message by starting at the end of the text and working backwards.

Examples

The Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus(The William) is an acrostic: the first letters of its fifteen stanzas spell WILLEM VAN NASSOV. This was one of the hereditary titles of William of Orange (William the Silent), who introduces himself in the poem to the Dutch people.

A classic example of acrostic poem in English written by Edgar Allan Poe is entitled simply An Acrostic:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.Endymion, recollect, when Luna triedTo cure his love — was cured of all beside —His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

Another example is from Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking-Glass". The final chapter "A Boat, Beneath A Sunny Sky" is an acrostic of the real Alice's name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.A boat, beneath a sunny skyLingering onward dreamilyIn an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,Eager eye and willing ear,Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:Echoes fade and memories die:Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,Alice moving under skiesNever seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,Eager eye and willing ear,Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,Dreaming as the days go by,Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -Lingering in the golden gleam -Life, what is it but a dream?

Here is another example where the initial letters spell out the months of the year, entitled A Calendar Acrostic:

JANet was quite ill one day.FEBrile trouble came her way.MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;APRoned nurses softly sped.MAYbe, said the leech judicialJUNket would be beneficial.JULeps, too, though freely tried,AUGust ill, for Janet died.SEPulchre was sadly made.OCTaves pealed and prayers were said.NOVices with ma'y a tearDECorated Janet's bier.

In October 2009, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California employed an acrostic to convey a message to the members of the State Assembly that would have been unacceptable to express directly. In this case, the initial letters of the lines rather than sentences of the brief letter spelled the words "Fuck you". Similar tactics were used in 2001 by Stephen Pollard to conceal the message "Fuck you, Desmond" in a Daily Express article.

Multiple acrostics

Acrostics can be more complex than just by making words from initials. A double acrostic, for example, may have words at the beginning and end of its lines, as this example, on the name of Stroudmarker, by Paul Hansford -Set among hills in the midst of five valleyS,This peaceful little market town we inhabiTRefuses (vociferously!) to be a conformeR.Once home of the cloth it gave its name tO,Uphill and down again its streets lead yoU.Despite its faults it leaves us all charmeD.

This example can be considered a more complex form of acrostic. This classical poetry is entitled Behold, O God! written by William Browne published in 1815 in his book "Orginal Poems By William Browne." The poem has highlighted letters inside its verses such that when they are grouped together, printed as red letters in the manuscript, the letters depict three crosses and the topmost middle cross reads "INRI," in Latin means "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" translated as "Jesus of Nazareth King of Jews." The crosses contain verses from the New Testament. The left cross contains Luke 23:42 "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." The middle cross contains Matthew 27:46 "O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The right cross contains Luke 23:39 "If thou art the Christ, save thyself and us."

BEHOLD, O God! IN RIvers of my tearsI come to thee! bow down thy blessed earsTo hear me, wretch, and let thine eyes (which sleepDid never close) behold a sinner weep:Let not, O GOD, MY GOD, my faults through great,And numberless, betWeen thy mercy's seatAnd my poor soul be tHrown! since we are taught,Thou, LORD, REMEMBER'st thYne, IF THOU [ART] be sought.I coME not, Lord, witH any oTHEr meritThan WHat I by my SAviour CHrist inherit:Be thEN his woundS my balm; his stRIpes my bliss;My crown his THorns; my deaTh be loST in his.And thOU, my blesT Redeemer, SAviour, God,Quit my acCOunts, withHold the VEngeful rod!O beg for ME! my hOpes on Thee are set;And ChriST forgiVe, as well as pay tHe debtThe livINg fount, the liFe, the waY, I know,And but TO thee, O whither Should I go?All oTHer helps aRe vain: grant thinE to me,For in thY cross my Saving heaLth must be.O hearKen then whAt I with Faith implore,Lest SIN and Death sinK me for evermore.Lastly, O God! my ways dirEct And guide;In death DefeNd me, that I Never slide;And at the doOM let Me be raiseD then,To live with thEe; sweet JesUS, say Amen!

Hebrew Acrostics

There are some acrostics whose authenticities are disputed. For instance, the first Hebrew letter of each consecutive Hebrew name from Adam to the father of Abraham appears to form an acrostic that when translated in English reads: I WILL FORGIVE MY ENEMIES, HAVING COMPASSION, FORGIVING THOSE MADE FROM DUST A SECOND TIME. However, it is debatable whether this acrostic is the result of random chance or by design.

See also



References

  1. http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2009/10/schwarzenegger_veto_you.html


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